Civil unions

With their party now a majority in both houses of the General Assembly, and with a fellow Democrat as governor, Colorado Democrats have an open road for legislation that in past years has faced partisan roadblocks.

A bill authorizing civil unions for same-sex couples is likely to be high on the list.

In the 2012 legislative session, a Republican filibuster blocked House consideration of a civil unions bill that the Senate, with its Democratic majority, had already passed. At that time, proponents appeared to control enough House votes to pass the bill. After Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a special session, a Republican-controlled House committee voted down the bill.

This year, partly because of a backlash against Republicans on this issue, Democrats control the House and its committees, and the party’s commitment to civil unions has not waned.

Democrats are not alone in supporting the concept. Southwest Colorado’s state senator, Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was one of the “yes” votes in the Senate last year. The issue is not completely partisan; nearly one-third of Republican voters also say they support it.

Civil unions, if authorized by the Legislature, would solidify the parental, property and inheritance rights of same-sex partners, and would allow an individual to authorize a stronger role in making medical decisions for an incapacitated partner. It would enable them to become a legal and financial unit.

In other words, it would enable them to take responsibility for their families as other couples long have been legally supported in doing.

It’s time. It’s well past time.

Same-sex couples are sharing their lives, and those who disapprove cannot make that reality disappear.

Society does not benefit by making same-sex relationships more difficult. It does not benefit from depriving anyone of the right to sit at a life partner’s hospital bedside, in times of joy and times of fear and times of impending loss, simply because both people are the same gender. It does not benefit from making couples jump through legal hoops to gain uncertain assurances that if or when one of them dies, the other can inherit the estate they built together, continue to live in the home they shared and continue to parent the children they have raised together. It does not benefit from providing no laws about what happens to assets and children when same-sex relationships end, as a large number of heterosexual marriages do.

Society does not benefit at all from withholding the legal underpinnings of committed relationships and stable families. Providing the structural framework for the rights that most people take for granted can only benefit the couples and all who deal with them. Approving civil unions as a government designation that does not interfere with any religious definition of marriage is an expedient way to protect those rights and enforce the responsibilities that accompany them.

The civil-unions bill would have passed last year had it gone before the full House. It also would have passed if it had come before the state’s voters. It would be law today if not for the state’s parliamentary system, which, Roberts said last year, “is not pretty, but it’s the process we have.”

The process we have will enable Democrats, as the winners in the 2012 election, to decide whether to introduce and pass a civil unions bill. There will never be a better opportunity. Colorado cannot go back in time to reverse discrimination, but it can go forward in the right direction.

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